Every writer has their own writing routine that arises from their personal writing goals and what they believe they are capable of in any given time frame. I think we all have our peaks and troughs – sometimes we race on ahead and surprise ourselves with our enthusiasm for the novel we are working on, whilst other times we struggle on desperate just to achieve the minimum we have set ourselves.
Catherine Berry left this comment on my blog last week, and I wanted to share my answer with all my readers – because I think it’s an issue we all face:
I’ve just started my first novel and at the research stage at the moment; it’s an historical novel so a lot of research to be done and feeling a little overwhelmed by it to say the least. I was just wondering how much time you spend on your novel and how do you stop yourself getting completely consumed by it? I love reading and found that this is practically non-existent (unless I stop work on the novel) and I also have some self-help writing guides to read but feel I’m wasting time on anything else if I’m not researching. Do you have any tips on how to balance things and stop stressing?
I know just how she feels because I often feel the same. The overwhelming nature of starting out on that first novel, the enthusiasm that pushes you on and seeps into every aspect of your life, so much so that unless you’re working directly on your manuscript every other moment feels like a waste.
I’m lucky enough to work part-time – unlucky because the reason for this stems from a disability (see this post to read more about my own personal circumstances – and I would recommend any writer struggling with ‘guilt’ and prioritising their writing time to read it). But, this provides me with the luxury of two days in the working week when I am alone in the house, and then weekends on top of this, to spend some time on my writing. So, I can dedicate four days out of every week to my writing goals.
In reality, because I have to rest frequently, I rarely spend more than an hour at a time doing any writing activity: be that adding words to the manuscript, editing pages, writing my blog, researching elements of the novel or reading (fiction and writing related advice – blogs/magazines). Typically, I can have up to three sessions a day – meaning that in total I probably spend around 10-12hrs a week ‘being a writer’.
But, it has taken me a long time to accept that writing itself is not the only worthwhile pursuit of a writer.
Breaking my day up into ‘sessions’ means that I can pick and choose what I am concentrating on in any given session. Sometimes I spend more time editing and reading than writing itself. What I have found to be vital to my sense of inspiration and motivation is reading other fiction and other writers’ blogs. I don’t see this as time wasted, because it helps me focus on the craft of writing – learning from others and also building a sense of community at the same time: meaning that I don’t feel so alone as a writer.
I also break down my writing tasks into realistic, definite chunks. I set myself targets (see here for the most recent) and used to write myself to-do lists (you can search the blog for these) to keep myself on track and ensure that I was keeping my routine varied and interesting. This way I don’t have the chance to get distracted, or become too involved in one aspect of my writing and neglect other – just as important – elements, such as reading or editing.
Setting such targets and reviewing them regularly can ensure that you feel on top of things and allow you permission to work on different aspects of your writing craft. Therefore, if you begin to feel guilty for reading while you feel you should be writing you can reassure yourself by saying, ‘But I’m going to do some writing this afternoon’. Reading is research: you’re learning what works for other writers as you read – just because it’s enjoyable doesn’t mean it’s not work (as I suggest in this post).
Not only this, but if you really are enjoying one area – like researching – it stops you from getting to far into it and can keep you focused. If you know you’ve only got an hour to find something out, then you might find something interesting and mark it to read on your next researching session, rather than go off on a tangent.
You can also use your most enjoyable task as a reward for attempting something you like less. For me, in the beginning, this was definitely editing. I’d promise myself an hour of writing time if I got through my editing in the morning. Now, I actually enjoy editing because I’ve discovered the best way to approach it: mornings are definitely my most productive editing time.
Finally, by breaking my writing time down into sessions it keeps my mind fresh, ensuring that I never feel overwhelmed by one part of the process. I might be in the midst of writing a first draft of a short story and then realise that I need to take a break, knowing that I’ll have to switch to something else after my rest. But this just means that I’m more driven to complete other things, buoyed on by my excitement that the writing brought me. It also means that I don’t neglect everything else just because I have a spark of inspiration from the muse. This won’t work for all writers, because some will benefit more by following the muse down the rabbit hole (and on occasion, even I do this). But, for me, I feel more positive if I can see slow, steady progress across the board – rather than racing ahead in one aspect.
I should admit that there is one time of year that I suspend most of the routine I have written about so far: November. During NaNoWriMo I set myself a goal to write the first draft of a new novel. The community and collective support during this month is unmatched by any motivation I might muster on my own. During NaNoWriMo pretty much all I do is write – but then, I’ve given myself permission to do so and know this for many months in advance: which fits right in with my ethos for writing. Because even though right now I would love to start the sequel to my NaNo #1 (That which is left is lost) I know that I’m going to be dedicating the whole of November to it.
I hope this helps answer your questions Cath! I found it really fun to address a blog post to a question or two from someone reading – so please feel free to suggest topics for future posts that I can write about. Thanks for providing some inspiration. 🙂